Internazionale – Juventus: Crowning Court Favors Inter In Regista Ruling (1-0)
Whereas Manuel Locatelli was often left isolated against overloads, Hakan Çalhanoğlu connected in the middle as Internazionale comfortably stepped past Juventus. Now four points ahead of their opponents, Inter appear on the road to success.
Tactical analysis and match report by Joel Parker.
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Derby d’Italia has always served great importance in the Serie A calendar, but no game between these two has had this significance in recent memory. After Milan’s surprise climb to the top and Napoli cruising to the Scudetto, this year, Italy promises to serve its most traditional title-race dish.
One point separated Inter and Juve at the summit, both teams losing just once in the league, both teams playing 3-5-2 systems on paper, but their rise to the race has stemmed from very different paths.
Despite leaving the Champions League final without a trophy, Inter came back to the league with the motivation that they could compete with anyone. Simone Inzaghi’s men demolished Milan, and have got pivotal away wins at Atalanta, Napoli and Fiorentina. This year continues with a huge test of their metal, getting three points ahead of their rivals, with a game in hand, would be monumental.
Juve has flourished without European football mixed into their schedule. It has given the time for Max Allegri to establish a fine run of form, Juve scored more goals in January than they have ever started a calendar year (so much for those 1-0 wins Allegri seems to strive towards.) The draw to Empoli slightly rocks the ship towards this game, but the evidence is clear: Juventus are tough to play against again.
Nicolò Barella and Hakan Çalhanoğlu returned from their Super Cup suspensions, two of four changes that Inzaghi made for this game, from their 1-0 win over Fiorentina. Francesco Acerbi replaced Stefan de Vrij in the backline, whilst Federico Dimarco also came in for Carlos Augusto. Inter were back to full strength.
Allegri made two rotations to his team. Arkadiusz Milik was sent off after eighteen minutes, in that game against Empoli, Kenan Yıldız took his place in the attack. Alex Sandro was replaced by fellow Brazilian, and captain, Danilo. Federico Chiesa was also back on the bench.
Çalhanoğlu comes into the defensive line
Retreating into their deeper block, Çalhanoğlu was policed by those in black-and-white as Juve built the barricades to protect their goal. Inter where able to walk the ball towards the halfway line against a highly compact defensive block, Yıldız dropping into the midfield line to block out the vertical pass inside. Fortunately for Inter, this is a team that is comfortable in filtering out its midfield to stretch defensive blocks and create access down the channels.
As Benjamin Pavard or Alessandro Bastoni stepped up, Çalhanoğlu came out of his pivot spot to become part of the defensive line. This was more prominent down the right side, as Pavard filled out the wide-right space and an aggressive run from Matteo Darmian or Barella was made inside. With the Juve block pulled towards one side, Çalhanoğlu was encouraged to quickly move the ball towards the other side, with both lateral and vertical access open. Within the center of their block, Manuel Locatelli man marked the deeper Lautaro Martínez or used his cover shadow to block the vertical inside. This committed Andrea Cambiaso, coming out of the defensive line, to encounter the Inter players on the left; a third man run could be made in behind to get the ball towards the final third.
3rd minute: Example of the short-wide combinations that Inter where trying to achieve. As Juve shifted over towards that channel, a third-man run from Mkhitaryan enabled circulation from right to left to break into the final third, with Dimarco also underlapping to support.
Çalhanoğlu was the concrete step for Inter to gain momentum in the first period. Martínez moved wider on the left, earlier in the buildup, which did disrupt Juve’s midfield line as Locatelli would now have to cover both Barella moving onto the ball side and the pass back to Çalhanoğlu would now see the Turkish midfielder facing play.
The wide trios of Inter were interchangeable and they attacked the Juventus channel with a number of different positional attacks, but finding the third man inside was the aim against the deeper block. However, Juve where well prepared for this and made sure as many players were put behind the ball as they could. Cambiaso and Filip Kostić rarely pushed far ahead of the center-backs, and both McKennie and Adrien Rabiot sat in a slightly narrower spot to block the vertical pass towards the forwards, depending on what side the ball was on.
Inter had to hit the ball earlier in order to cause problems. Seventeen minutes in, Pavard curled a high cross towards the back post, with Gatti thinking Cambiaso had dropped further to cover Dimarco. He had not, but Dimarco’s free shot on the volley was thumped into the ground and back into the side netting. Çalhanoğlu then turned his attention to Dimarco’s high positioning against the backline; an incredible line-splitting pass against the retreating Juve defense enabled Dimarco to square the ball back towards Marcus Thuram, but an incredible interaction from Bremer denied a clean shot at goal. Although Wojciech Szczęsny was yet to be tested, Inter had started the Derby in a much better fashion.
Juve jolts before Inter strikes
McKennie carries where the best hope in Juventus breaking into Inter’s half, but they started to get most phases of circulation after twenty-five minutes. This came at a time when Martínez became more connective when positioned behind McKennie, Çalhanoğlu moved into proximity, Dušan Vlahović still faced towards the ball, and the two Inter players combined to progress.
30th minute: Short passing combinations through Juve’s deep block. Overload built around Locatelli as Martínez moved into the halfspace, Çalhanoğlu moved around Vlahović to open the passing lane and Mkhitaryan made his third man run into space ahead of Martínez.
Combinations nearly came off with Henrikh Mkhitaryan above them and Thuram holding his central spot to keep Juve away from fully shifting, but as Martínez’s influence grew, Juve started to gain more yards on the counterattack. Just after the half-hour mark, Yıldız laid the ball off for McKennie to run and the American slalomed out and in to get past Bastoni, a three-versus-two was created. Francesco Acerbi covered Yıldız, but Pavard stepped and Vlahović was free to receive inside the box. A poor touch took the ball away and Pavard was able to recover.
Juve started to get breaks, and even in a slightly fortuitous fashion they could make things work, but counterattacking with just two forwards, no out ball and no rapid wing-backs or midfielders (at least in a position to join the transition) was always a mountain to climb. As soon as Juve started to show some sign of life, Inter found its breakthrough.
Circulating the ball down the right side, Juve always preferred the Inter player behind receiving the pass, as opposed to a progressive ball through their lines. However, this invites Inter to cross the ball into the box and their right trio worked the ball into a good crossing position, just on the edge of the box. Barella crossed, Bastoni’s scissor kick was miscued, but the ball bounced in off Gatti, under pressure from the lunging Thuram.
Juve yields center-back protection
In attempts to get back into the game, Juve changed their aims off the ball in the second half. In came the high press, which was man-to-man and saw attackers step up on Yann Sommer too. This affected the first few deep builds that Inter partook in and forced Sommer to kick longer, as Juve orientated themselves towards the center and encouraged Inter to play back towards their goalkeeper.
48th minute: Juve’s man-orientated high press, which aimed to stop Inter from moving the ball out wide to restart their combinations. In this phase, Sommer’s long ball towards Darmian was overhit.
This led to Juve either putting the ball back into their circulation or reshuffling back into their 5-3-2 medium block. Now Cambiaso and Gatti were comfortable in leaving the defensive line, but a third man run from Bastoni created problems and forced Bremer to come further away from his penalty box as a result. On the other side, Barella was a benefactor in Kostić and Danilo pressing high on the left within their medium block. Because Locatelli had to shuttle to cover vertically, it left Çalhanoğlu in space to find a pass and Barella was often the aggressive runner on the transition. Such a combination almost saw Martínez shoot just at the front post of the six-yard box, but Gatti was positioned to block.
57th minute: Buildup to Martínez chance. The left side of Juve’s defense stepping up created a lot of space for Barella to run into. Rabiot anticipated the pass the wall pass from Darmian to Barella, but Darmian moved the ball infield towards Thuram. Though not the cleanest of passes were made to Çalhanoğlu, he was not only facing goal, Locatelli moved away from him towards Thuram and Barella made a run behind the defenders.
On the hour mark, much more frantic opportunities began to take place. When entering the final third, Juve where much more cross-orientated than Inter. Crosses from the right saw both Barella and Darmain in the box but left Kostić free on the edge of the box to get a second chance. His low-driven ball was deflected, taking the ball inches away from his fellow Serbian was darted towards the goal. In the second phase, Inter broke forward and Çalhanoğlu led the charge. His cross trickled to Thuram, who put the ball back across goal, but a hesitant Dimarco, who had escaped McKennie, had not prepared.
Juve may have been ambitious in their pressing, but their attempts to get back into the game from this angle constantly left Locatelli in a dilemma and created a spare midfielder for Inter to evade pressure. Situationally, Cambiaso came out of the right wing-back position into a more central one, which encouraged McKennie to stay wider and deeper. On the counterpress, this made the transition messy for Juve and Inter transitioned through the lines easily. In attempts to gain a foothold in the game, Juve made themselves much more vulnerable in the defense and Inter where constantly a pass away from punishing their opponents.
Inter cruise through to victory
In the last fifteen minutes in Serie A games, Inter are still yet to concede, the only club left to do so. Allegri turned to Chiesa, but it was Gatti – in fairness, only the two strikers have scored more goals than him for Juve this season – who came closest. Teed up by substitute Timothy Weah, Gatti’s low hit from the edge of the box, fizzed past the far post.
Inter continued the frantic spell of shots through another transition. Barella drove the ball forward, Dimarco returned the ball to him at the back post and his volley was well saved by Szczęsny. Juve would not register a shot in the last fifteen minutes, as they still leaned towards crosses in order to get towards the box. Inter continued to have transitional ability, whilst also situationally pressing Juve out wide, as well as moving into a deeper defensive block if needed.
The last attempt of the game would be excellently stopped by Szczęsny once more. From a ball over Juve’s pressing lines, Barella flicked the ball to Martínez who had substitute Denzel Dumfries available on the outside. Across the box was another substitute, Marko Arnautović, who escaped Gatti but the goalkeeper denied him from close range. Inter saw out the title clash under very little threat.
Inzaghi moving Çalhanoğlu to fill Marcelo Brozović’s boots, at the center piece of the system, has been one of Serie A’s most important tactical moves. Inter has been able to replicate the way it plays and do it with much more consistency than last season. Now they have moved four points ahead of Juventus, and with a game to spare, it is a huge result that byes space, but the job is far from done.
Juve’s first league defeat since September comes without shame but does leave a sour taste knowing that they hardly threatened the league leaders. Nevertheless, Allegri has established this team as a tough one to break down, and one that is going to linger in the Scudetto race, deep into the season.
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